Canine Brains Display a Unique Preference for Female Voices, Mimicking Human Babies

by Lisa

Our four-legged companions may have an unexpected inclination toward higher-pitched female voices, according to a recent study conducted by researchers from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology in Hungary. This fascinating revelation highlights a striking similarity between the way dogs and human infants respond to certain vocal tones.

Infants are known to be highly attuned to ‘baby talk’—the high-pitched, melodious manner of speech characterized by elongated vowels and exaggerated intonation. Research indicates that this exaggerated form of communication may have a positive impact on a child’s developing brain.


Intriguingly, dogs, like babies, appear to be responsive to high-pitched and exaggerated speech. However, unlike human babies, dogs are not exposed to female voices in utero, and high-pitched communication is not typical in dog-to-dog interactions.


To delve into this phenomenon, the research team devised a unique experiment. They trained 19 family dogs from eight different breeds, aged between 2 and 10, to enter an fMRI machine and remain still while their brains were scanned. During the scans, the dogs listened to three categories of pre-recorded human speech: speech directed at dogs, speech directed at human infants, and speech directed at adult humans. Both male and female adult voices were used in the recordings.


The results of the study revealed that the dogs exhibited increased activity in their auditory cortex when exposed to the exaggerated vocal tones commonly used when speaking to pets or infants. Interestingly, this preference was especially pronounced when the speaker was female.


Anna Gábor, a Neuroethologist from Eötvös Loránd University, suggests that “this may be due to the fact that women more often speak to dogs with exaggerated prosody than men.” Prosody refers to aspects of speech such as tone, rhythm, stress, and emotion.

In the brain scans, human voices were processed in the dog’s auditory cortex, specifically in the temporal pole and an area known as the Sylvian gyrus, located between the temporal lobe, frontal lobe, and parietal lobe.

These findings align with previous studies in which human infants displayed similar brain activity patterns when exposed to baby talk.

Scientists have proposed two primary hypotheses regarding how dogs might have developed this human-like trait. One theory suggests that there is a universal sensitivity among mammals to higher-pitched and more variable-frequency sounds. Alternatively, this sensitivity could have been a feature selected for during the domestication of wolves.

The researchers posit that pre-domesticated dogs displaying a greater sensitivity to dog-directed speech may have been more likely to stay close to humans and pay attention to vocal cues.

Interestingly, experimental evidence indicates that wolves tend to be more responsive to lower-pitched speech, whereas dogs respond more favorably to higher-pitched speech.

This groundbreaking research sheds light on the unique and evolving relationship between humans and their canine companions.


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